Disrupting Acquisition Blog

The Purpose of the Defense Acquisition System in a Four Word Mantra

by | Jul 24, 2019 | Mindset, Policy

“The Defense Acquisition System exists to manage the nation’s investments in technologies, programs, and product support necessary to achieve the National Security Strategy and support the United States Armed Forces. The investment strategy of the DoD shall be postured to support not only today’s force, but also the next force, and future forces beyond that. The primary objective of Defense acquisition is to acquire quality products that satisfy user needs with measurable improvements to mission capability and operational support, in a timely manner, and at a fair and reasonable price. The following policies shall govern the Defense Acquisition System: Flexibility; responsiveness; innovation; discipline; and streamlined and effective management. [26] additional policies that will be applied to the acquisition system are at enclosure 1.”
DOD Directive 5000.01
Note: 5000.01 has since been updated.

This rambling from the foundational acquisition policy lacks the focus and clarity that the acquisition workforce needs. It is neither memorable nor inspirational. Acquisition professionals don’t come to work every day to “satisfy user needs with measurable improvements.

Silicon Valley marketing guru Guy Kawasaki stresses companies need a three- to four-word mantra to convey WHY they exist. The purpose of the defense acquisition system can be summarized in a mantra as:

Deliver better solutions faster.

While defense acquisition is a complex endeavor, it all boils down to those four simple words. Let’s break each one down.


The primary objective of defense acquisition is the delivery of capabilities to Warfighters. Success is not measured by the number of program documents completed, milestone reviews approved, or compliance with the multitude of policies. Acquisition professionals should ask themselves: “Am I delivering capabilities to Warfighters that help them accomplish their mission?” Acquisition executives and Program Executive Officers should publish annual reports that summarize the capabilities they delivered to operational commands in the past year. The report should further publish the scheduled dates from MDD to IOC for all their current acquisition programs to shed light on some of the long timelines.


While “better” is a relative term, the goal is to increase the effectiveness of our operational forces. In some cases, this means improving the performance (e.g., speed, range, firepower) of systems over the current systems. It can also include radically new approaches to achieve military objectives, such as using unmanned systems, cyber-attacks, or re-purposing current systems for entirely different missions. “Better” is constrained by available budgets, so affordability and lifecycle costs are part of the tradespace analysis. The acquisition system must deliver the best possible solutions within the available budgets.


Acquisitions generally involve acquiring a new materiel solution. Acquisition professionals must work closely with operators and technologists to understand the operational environment so that they can explore the range of materiel and non-materiel solutions. Not every program requires large budgets and long timelines to develop a new major system that meets all predefined requirements. Teams can iteratively expend small budgets over short periods of time while shaping concepts of operations to progress toward similar results with greater speed and success. Similarly, DoD should explore where it can deliver lower cost, simpler systems in higher quantities to complement the high-cost, low-quantity, complex systems. Solutions should focus on achieving military superiority, not simply technology superiority. The National Defense Strategy (NDS) states: “Success no longer goes to the country that develops a new technology first, but rather to the one that better integrates it and adapts its way of fighting.”


Speed of delivery is a core priority in the NDS. Given rapidly changing technologies, operations, missions, threats, and budgets, the DoD cannot afford decade-long development timelines. Defense leaders worry that the DoD has lost its ability to act fast, and that this allows adversaries to catch up and, in some areas, surpass us. The acquisition, requirements, and budget processes must be streamlined to “deliver performance at the speed of relevance.” This includes iteratively delivering minimum viable products and capabilities to accelerate learning, address Warfighters top priorities first, and design systems to enable rapid technology insertion. If the United States had to fight another war this year, are U.S. Warfighters armed today with the capabilities to win?

Acquisition executives and professionals should regularly repeat this mantra to shape decisions, investments, and initiatives. When issues arise at an enterprise or program level, they can ask themselves:


Is this enabling us to deliver better solutions faster?


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Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors only and do not represent the positions of the MITRE Corporation or its sponsors.


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